Written Answers. - Bovine Diseases.
55 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position in relation to the elimination of BSE in cattle herds; and the impact of the disease currently on the export sales of Irish beef. [18902/03]
A total of 105 cases of BSE have been confirmed to date in 2003, including one case from a depopulated herd. This represents a reduction of 43% on the corresponding period in 2002 when 185 cases, including two cases from depopulated herds, were confirmed.
In both 2002 and 2003, some 98% of cases were identified in animals aged six years or more at the time of diagnosis, compared with 84% and 60% in that category in 2001 and 2000 respectively. The increasing age profile of animals in which the disease is confirmed and the declining numbers of BSE cases are positive indications that the enhanced controls in relation to meat and bonemeal, specified risk material and the processing of mammalian waste products introduced in 1996 and 1997 are having the desired effect and that the incidence of BSE will continue to decline as older animals leave the system. It is however likely that cases will continue to be identified for several years yet as many cases continue to be identified in animals aged ten years or older.
The current controls are working well but are subject to ongoing review by my Department, having regard to various factors. This process embraces all aspects of the current control measures and seeks to ensure that as time passes and relevant circumstances evolve they continue to address any areas of identified risk, consolidate and protect progress made to date in tackling the disease and further the objective of eliminating it from the national herd.
Prior to the BSE crisis in mainland Europe late in 2000, Ireland had recovered many of its traditionally important third country export markets which had closed as a consequence of the earlier crisis in 1996. Following the crisis in 2000, which arose from developments in other member states, a number of countries imposed Europe-wide bans on beef imports. There has never been a restriction on Irish beef within the EU due to BSE.
It is my policy and that of the Government that Irish beef should be free to enter any market where exporters consider there are commercial possibilities. Where there are restrictions due to BSE, every effort has been made and will continue to be made at political, diplomatic and technical level to have them removed. As a consequence of these efforts, Egypt, which had been our largest market for beef, lifted the ban on Irish beef imports in October 2001, and the resumption of exports is now a commercial matter for the industry. Intensive efforts are continuing in relation to other traditional markets for Irish beef which remain closed to us, such as the Gulf States, South Africa and Indonesia.
Despite the difficulties brought about by BSE, exports of Irish beef have been at a very satisfactory level with the UK market in particular recording huge growth over the past two years. Russia has been the next most important market in terms of volume while France, Netherlands, Italy and Sweden remain strong. Nonetheless it would be desirable to have more markets available which would results in greater competition for Irish beef.